LIMESTONE — GOP presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole surprised everyone Wednesday, including the office of Sen. William S. Cohen, when he announced that the military prison will remain in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Neither Cohen nor the Loring Development Authority of Maine had been notified that results were available of a study comparing the costs of building a new military prison at Leavenworth and at the former Loring Air Force Base.
Loring was being considered as an alternative site to building a new military disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth. The century-old prison needs to be replaced because of safety issues. On behalf of the LDA, Cohen had asked the Army to look at existing buildings at Loring as possible sites for the prison and as a way to save money.
After a visit to Loring in January, the Army was expected to brief Cohen on the results of the cost comparison study.
Somehow Dole’s office received a copy of the three-page summary of the report. Dole spokesman Kim McCreery declined to share a copy of the summary, saying it would be released officially on Thursday.
“We got it through Army channels as a courtesy to Senator Dole,” McCreery said.
According to Dole’s statement, the Army concluded that `the lack of compelling economic justification for relocating the USDB [U.S. disciplinary barracks] … strongly supports Fort Leavenworth as the preferred location for the USDB.”
The report noted the Leavenworth community’s long history with the barracks and its superior community and state support, according to Dole.
“The bottom line is this — the numbers prove it doesn’t make sense to move the barracks,” Dole said in a prepared statement.
Early Wednesday, Cohen’s press secretary, Kathy Gest, was unaware of Dole’s release. Cohen is spending the Easter break in Malaysia. Later in the day, Cohen issued a statement, saying he was disappointed with the Army’s conclusion.
“I am committed to the redevelopment of the base and will continue to do everything I can to find new uses for the facility,” the Cohen statement said.
The statement cited past success in getting other federal agencies to locate at Loring, such as the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Job Corps, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
LDA President Brian N. Hamel was surprised by Dole’s announcement.
“It was a long shot to begin with,” Hamel said. “We approached them, they didn’t come to us. We believe we got a fair shake.”
Last week, Hamel said it was unlikely that a military prison would locate at Loring. The Army compared the cost of replacing only the prison at Fort Leavenworth with the cost of completely recreating the prison and its support facilities at Loring.
At the northern Maine base, new structures or renovations to buildings would be required to house auxiliary services, such as a fitness center, workshops and guard housing.
It hasn’t been a good week in the base reuse business in northern Maine.
Loring also was rejected earlier this week as a site of an Army National Guard maintenance facility.
Two sites were named on Tuesday, according to Brig. Gen. Earl L. Adams of the Maine Army National Guard. Kansas will house the facility serving the Guard west of the Mississippi River, while the state of Mississippi won the site for the eastern part of the country.
Adams said Wednesday that Loring finished second on a list of three for the eastern site. A total of six were in the running for the two sites, Adams said.
The Guard official said he hasn’t given up on locating some type of facility at Loring.
The buildings that would have been used as a maintenance facility were the same ones the Air Force used for vehicle repairs.
The decision was announced Tuesday during a teleconference involving officials of the 18 states that submitted applications. The final two were selected from a short list composed of Kansas, Mississippi, Texas, Maine, Illinois and Wisconsin.